Earliest Hominins

For this unit I put together a few activities that will hopefully help students determine how one might identify an early hominin, assess the bipedal ability of the current earliest hominin contenders, critically assess competing hypotheses for why bipedality evolved, examine the wide range of Australopithecine variation during the Plio-Pleistocene.

Early Hominin Activities guide

  1. The first activity helps students better visualize and communicate the suite anatomical differences between chimps and humans so that they know what to look for in the fossil hominin record.

Human Chimp Anatomical differences – filled in
Human Chimp Anatomical Differences


For this one, make a Google Slides Document from this powerpoint and share it with your students. Split up the class into groups using Zoom breakout rooms, and assign each group a page or two. From there, they can mark up their own pages with the differences they see between human and chimp anatomy. The class can come together to go through all of the slides, and students will have access to the collaborative effort from all the groups.

The second activity presents them with pictures and details of the earliest hominin contenders and asks them to determine which they think might be the first biped and also assess how fossil reconstruction could bias fossil interpretation.

Earliest Hominin contenders
Earliest hominins details


This can be done basically the exact same way as outlined above. You can share this document with students, have them work in groups through Zoom breakout rooms, have them follow the instructions detailed in the activities guide at the top of this page, and then have each group present their hypothesis to the class.

The third activity provides students with hypotheses for why bipedalism evolved and asks them to critically assess the evidence for and against each hypothesis while also reenforcing the concept that with the more information we have the more we have to refine our hypotheses.

Bipedalism Theories
Big Events in Human Evolution reminder


This can also be implemented easily for online teaching. Use the Google Slides here, split the class up into groups through Zoom breakout rooms, assign each group a theory to asses and write the pros and cons on their slides. When they are all done (~10min), have each group present their theory and the pros and cons of it to the rest of the class. In the end there will be a compiled Google Slides with all the information. I put the big events in human evolution at the top of the Google Slides document, but if you want to challenge them a bit more, you can remove this slide.

The fourth activity presents students with all of the Australopithecines we currently have evidence for and asks them to organize them in a way that makes sense to them, and then to develop ancestral lineages (with justification for their choices) leading to genus Homo. I have provided some sample lineage hypotheses gathered from wonderful colleagues who passed along their Intro to Human Evolution courses to me years ago, these wonderful people include Herman Pontzer, Julia Maki, Anna Warrener, and Rachel Dunn.

Possible Hominin Lineages


Provide students with the “Australopithecines” pdf document from above.  Make ~10 copies of this Google Slide within the same file, break up class into groups using breakout rooms in Zoom, number the breakout rooms (so that group # and slide number corresponds). Send a link to the Google Slide to groups and tell them to work on the slide number that matches their group number to do the activity. From here, you can follow the instructions of the activity guide provide at the top of this page.